We are about to head over to India, which got me thinking about what I needed to do to prep our family for the holiday. I see so many patients prepare poorly for their holidays when it comes to their health, so I thought I would share my top 6 tips with you:
- You’re thinking about outfits, how many pairs of shoes to pack (and do you really need a pair of heels on a beach holiday?– the eternal debate) and if you need bikinis and a one-piece (just in case!). So I get it, injections are the last thing on your mind. BUT – any overseas travel means you need to at least have a think about what vaccines you might need. Even the routine ones need to be updated now and then (like tetanus) and you may need specific ones for countries like India or Brazil. Hepatitis A, typhoid, cholera, yellow fever – do you need them? Often a patient will come and see me for a pap smear before their big trip and chuck in the line, “so I’m leaving in 2 weeks, do I need anything?” Cue my internal screams of horror! Most vaccines take 6 weeks to be effective and if you need multiple injections it might be too late. So please see us a bit earlier so we have time to plan and get you as ready as possible before your trip!
- Travel insurance is non negotiable. And don’t just pick any old one – make sure you will be covered. If you’re pregnant are you covered? And is the baby if he or she decides to arrive early? And what about your asthma – are they happy to cover that too? Do more than just say yes to the travel agent when they ask you if you want it – investigate if you will actually be safe!
- I used to think I had an iron gut – “used to” being the operative words- until I found myself with a fever, dehydrated and hallucinating on a bathroom floor in Argentina. Food and water safety is something you can’t compromise on in a third world country. My 5 DON’Ts:
- DON’T have ice (as it’s usually tap water)
- DON’T drink water from the tap – only bottled or boiled
- DON’T eat uncooked fruit or vegetables washed in local water – a banana is OK because you peel the skin off but apples for instance where you eat the skin are a no no
- DON’T walk around with bare feet on the roads – there are parasites (i.e. strongyloides) that can enter through the feet (I know it’s not food related but an extra tip!)
- DON’T eat food that’s been sitting there at a roadside stall – if you want to try it (and I get it who travels and doesn’t experiment a touch!) make sure its served piping hot – JUST boiled/fried/cooked to give your gut the best chance
- If you take regular medications and you’ll be travelling with them ask your GP for a letter to make sure you don’t end up being questioned. Who really wants to spend time being questioned over their sleeping tablets??
- Take an emergency kit with you – think about what you might need as your hugging a toilet bowl. I usually tell patients to pack at least some pain relief (like paracetamol), bandaids, hand sanitizer, gastrolyte and anti-histamines if you are an allergic person. But then there are all sorts of other things you might need like antibiotics in case of bad gastro or pneumonia. Or if you are hiking Macchu Picchu you might need tablets to help with altitude sickness. See, another reason to see the doc before you hop on the plane.
- Mosquitoes should scare the living daylights out of you. Malaria, zika virus, dengue – these diseases are no joke. As a GP we have access to information about which countries are hot spots for which diseases and whether or not you need anti malria drugs. A few mosquito Dos:
- DO wear long sleeved tops and pants in a light colour at dawn and dusk (the biggest risk periods) to protect your skin
- DO buy the proper DEET mosquito repellant
- DO use a mosquito net if available at night
- DO (Please DO!!) speak to your doctor about whether you need anti malarial medication – there are a few available now so you have options!
So I know you’re excited. I know that the stuff I’ve just mentioned is incredibly boring compared to making a list of the restaurants and bars you want to visit whilst away BUT it’s more important I promise you. Getting malaria isn’t a joke – it can kill you. And getting diarrhea for 6 days because you drank the water also isn’t an ideal way to spend your beach holiday. So please book an appointment, do the boring stuff first… and then decide on which 700 pairs of bathers you’ll pack!